Absorbing Christie mystery shines at the Churchill Theatre

By the time we saw The Mirror Crack’d at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley – which runs until 26th November – we had already had insights from actor Oliver Boot, Chief Inspector Craddock in the play in our recent podcast interview, here.

Oliver loves performing in the show, and we loved watching it. Coincidentally, his was one of the outstanding performances, as the smart, but often outwitted, foil to Miss Marple, played with excellent comic timing by Susie Blake. Did we say comic timing? In a murder mystery by the Queen of Crime? Well, yes, because the plot, which got darker and darker as the night proceeded, was relieved by humour, especially in the first half. Rachel Wagstaff’s adaptation, directed by Philip Franks, imported that very successfully, as well as one or two modern themes and hints at Miss Marple’s past that were absent from the source material. The production was also aided by a rather ingenious mirrored stage centrepiece, which did enough to transform the backdrop to different settings, from glittering, to tense and spooky. The cast were dressed in some very impressive costumes (thank you, Katie Higgins), adding a treat to the eye as well as the brain.

The plot? That we can only hint at. Much-desired, but reluctantly ageing and rich actress Marina Gregg (Sophie Ward) meets an incapacitated Miss Marple conveniently in time for a murder to be unravelled. Is it her loving husband (Joe McFadden), one of the staff of her establishment, or one of her friends? If she has any friends…. What lay behind it? What clues were there from the views of each person present when it happened? Would more follow, and why? Were Lola Brewster (Chrystine Symone) and Cherry Baker (Mara Allen) who they appeared to be? Was Guiseppe Renzo (another notable performance, by Lorenzo Martelli) a quiet servant or more than met the eye?

The real triumph of the production, though, was in retaining audience attention from the first minute to the last, as a stream of large and small revelations offered new insights into the past of the characters and their motives for, of course, murder.

To find out the answer to these questions, you’ll have to see the play. Tickets here.

Darren and Jacqui Weale, 23rd November 2022

Mayor of Bromley and inspiring lung cancer support group present a special night in Bromley on 3rd December

Everybreath’s special night

Proud to have been chosen by Cllr Hannah Gray, Mayor of Bromley, to be one of the two organisations supported during her year in office, Bromley’s Everybreath, a group providing support to people affected by lung cancer, has added a special night to Bromley’s Yuletide. On 3rd December the Mayor and Everybreath together present ‘A Night Of Classic Movie Themes At The Palace’. The Palace is the Courtyard of Bromley’s ‘Old Palace’ and the music is to be played live by the 50-strong ensemble of the Lewisham Concert Band, supplemented by special guest artists and celebrity supporters of the group, led by the Mayor herself. The Mayor says of Everybreath, “They’re a special cause who are making such a difference locally. Lung cancer isn’t well enough understood, and those affected by it have unique needs that Everybreath are meeting. I applaud them, and I’ll be applauding them and the movie themes even more on 3rd December! I can’t wait!”  

In addition, in the just-held Nursing Times Awards 2022, the organisation was a finalist in the Cancer Nursing category, listed as: ‘King’s College Hospital with the Everybreath lung cancer support group.’

Everybreath – holding the hands of those affected by lung cancer 

Everybreath comprises a group of patients, survivors, bereaved, partners, family, friends, and carers who have experienced the trauma of lung cancer. The primary aim of the group is to provide a safe, relaxed, non-clinical and friendly environment for the provision of both emotional and practical support and guidance to anyone affected by lung cancer. The group meets on the last Thursday of every month in Farnborough.

As well as a forum for meeting others, sharing experiences and developing coping strategies, Everybreath provides access to additional specialist medical and support services. They also organise social events for families and invite experts to speak on a range of related topics.

Everybreath is committed to raising awareness of lung cancer and challenging preconceptions about lung cancer and smoking that can hamper early diagnosis. They work with local GPs, clinical staff at local hospital trusts, as well as other established groups, organisations and charities to improve early diagnosis and lend their support for the campaign for a National Screening program.

Everybreath would like to thank their sponsors for this event: Priory Live Festival; Irwin Mitchell  solicitors; EuroABS; and Hugh James law.


Tickets: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mayor-of-bromleys-a-night-of-classic-movie-themes-at-the-great-hall-tickets-387430624427

More on Everybreath

Emma Barclay, the co-founder of Everybreath, was 44 years old, a wife and a mother with young children when she went to her doctors with a lump in her neck. A referral to an ENT specialist and a biopsy revealed it was advanced lung cancer. Emma was assigned Nicky De Lobel as her specialist cancer nurse during her care, and she went on to co-found Everybreath with Nicky. Experimental treatment followed, the cancer went into remission and after 5 years Emma was discharged. 

Nicky says of Emma, “She is special. She refused to give up and carried on. She wants to share her story of hope and that what happened to her can happen to other people.”

The organisation largely comprises volunteers, including former NHS staff, such as Ruth Marshall, and her friend Tessa, who for years has made the tea and coffee, a simple but essential service at Everybreath’s meetings.

Everybreath is working on initiatives with other organisations in the field, but there are very few other organisations offering related services.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the biggest single cause of death by cancer worldwide. It kills more people than bowel and breast cancer combined. It carries with it a stigma that most cancers don’t, as it is invariably associated with smoking and attracts judgement and blame for sufferers, even the many who have never smoked, by being perceived as self-inflicted, an avoidable risk. Whereas in reality young women in particular can get it having never smoked in their lives.

That helps to explain why often well-known, high profile individuals who suffer from lung cancer and who live well do not readily share their status. That in turn makes the cancer a taboo and hides the message that it can, sometimes, be controlled and lived with and is not always a death sentence. As with many cancers, early detection is important, and that it is so seldom discussed is unhelpful to early detection. A national programme of screening has been newly announced, but even so people should have any symptoms checked and not await the screening programme.

Death Drops into Bromley

‘Death Drop – Back In The Habit’ glitzed its way to Bromley on the 27th October, and remains in The Churchill Theatre until the 30th, with Legendary drag queens and stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Willam (A Star Is Born, Nip/Tuck), and Cheryl Hole (Celebrity Juice, The Only Way is Essex) leading an all-drag cast including River Medway, Victoria Scone and Drag King superstar LoUis CYfer (Winner – Drag Idol, Death Drop) in this murder mystery comedy. 

Writer Rob Evans and Director Jesse Jones have created a performance that gave the audience a treat of comedy, puns, and an integrated twist of movie references that puts a whole new spin on murder, religion and, of course, Drag.

A member of the audience I spoke with said, “It was funny and entertaining, whilst courageous and ground-breaking with some societal norms. Really liked how movies were referenced and integrated into the play’s story. Passive interaction with audience was nice.’’

Fabulously dressed to kill, the killer drag nuns at St Babs are trapped in their convent with a serial slayer slashing its way through the sisters after a visit from Father Romero, who is somewhat trapped with the sassy fierce nuns Sister Marple, Sister Mary Berry, Sister Maria Julie Andrews and Sis Titis. All of whom leaving you with your mouths and eyes wide open as clues are unearthed by Sis Marple.

It is a playful and cheeky new take on a murder mystery that brings mainstream global drag to the stage. Whilst it is a unique production filled with laughs, it doesn’t quite pay off in the execution of its storyline.

Tickets: https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-death-drop-back-in-the-habit-bromley-2022

By Zeenat Noorani, 30th October 2022

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel lives up to its name

Bangalore came to Bromley on 19th October, and remains there until 22nd October 2022, with the stage production of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Despite our having heard Rula Lenska – playing Madge – tell us when interviewed for the Bromley Buzz podcast – listen here – that she loves the whole experience, we wondered, would we? Just how do you excite an audience by presenting a group of British retirees going to put their feet up in an Indian retirement hotel?

The fact that this is based on a book and two successful films is evidence that excitement could be forthcoming, and it was.

First, it turns out, you start to excite the audience by having delightful comic prelude by a couple of the actors. Then, shortly after, you make their jaws drop by revealing a stage set that can only be described as gorgeous and that really can make you think you’re in a dilapidated hotel in Bangalore.

Feed in a series of varied and evocative Indian tunes that deepen the experience further, and the Indian scene is set. Then you introduce the largely ageing cast, but one whose age is an asset as well as being essential to the plot. There are hundreds of years of acting experience on the stage, and that shows! Their ability to time and deliver killer lines and draw sympathy and love from the audience is a credit to that experience.

Add character development and some marvellous characters – man-mad Madge, perky Muriel (Marlene Sidaway), naughty Norman (Andy De La Tour), troubled couple Douglas (Paul Nicholas) and Jean (Eileen Battye), widow Evelyn (Hayley Mills), the whimsical Dorothy (Richendra Carey), and you’re in business. Yet that is only half the story.

Let’s return to the earlier question: just how do you excite an audience by presenting a group of British retirees going to put their feet up in an Indian retirement hotel?

One way is by making the hotel staff and other Indian parts as important, engaging and loveable as the British guests, and the production does that. You end up wrapped up in the fate of every character and of the hotel itself. It also makes you think about age and life and values, as we found listening to conversations around the audience.

The Indian hotel (and call centre, a story in itself) staff really shine, with the very Indian mother Mrs Kapoor (Rekha John-Cheriyan), her son Sonny (Nishad More), the vivacious Sahani (Shila Iqbal), Mr Gupta (Tiran Aakel), Kamila (Kerena Jagpal), and Harmage Singh Kalirai – who has three wonderful roles. We don’t like to turn a review into a full cast list, but this cast gave us no other option. Anant Varman was making his professional UK stage debut as Mohan/Tikal, and in some respects he was playing a role as an outcast, but he played it with a charm and wit that suited the show beautifully.   

Talking of shining, that is exactly what this show does more and more, adding even more lush stage scenery and costumes (just see what Douglas, Sahani and Kamila have to wear at the end) as it goes along. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel concludes by adding a dimension that I won’t even spell out – it should be kept a surprise.

We loved it. So did the cheering, heavily clapping audience at the end.   

Tickets: https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-bromley-2021

Also, do check out the charity that Hayley Mills is an Ambassador for: https://campsite.bio/visionfoundation

Darren and Jacqui Weale

Did The Commitments feel good? Oh, yes

Photo credit Ellie Kurttz

Watching and listening to The Commitments live on stage is a joy. You witness the creation of a strange musical alchemy that combines people from a run-down, working class, area of 1980’s Dublin with a magical music, Soul, born many miles away in the United States, to create something truly fabulous. A ragged assembly of musical talents (a butcher on bass, really?) and miscreants form a spectacular show band that energises any audience put before it. Years on from its first writing and becoming a famous movie, this fictional taster of the musical rhythm of the Dublin people remains a credit to author Roddy Doyle.  

The first sight of the set reflects the grey downtown, downbeat backdrop to the story that follows, and that is never quite left behind. Yet that greasy spoon of a musical crucible had the seeds of greatness within it, as becomes clear.

The cast, most of who are first seen as a bunch of people just having a good time at a pub, start to  shine as they put the band – The Commitments – together. In between, they squabble, fall out, have romances and infatuations, and their only real unity comes in their love of the music. Their discord is all part of the charm, along with lines like, “Would you shut up, ye bollix?” Characters such as the spectacular skinhead, James (Stephen O’Riain) and seldom-stirring slob, Jimmy’s Da (Nigel Pivaro) weave in and out of the plot as the main musicians come and grow together. Charismatic vocalist Deco (Ian McIntosh) sounds remarkably like the singer in the Spotify show soundtrack, and that is certainly a compliment. So too was the way some of the audience leaned forward on those occasions when he was somewhat disrobed.

From leaning forward, to standing ovations? That was where the audience was led, thanks to a procession of sampled or fully played tracks, rough and edgy as the band tried them out, slick and spectacular by the close of the show.  The songs of this musical medley included – and this is just a sample to locate your musical radar – Tina Turner’s Proud Mary, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It On The Grapevine, Eddie Floyd’s Knock On Wood, Aretha Franklin’s Think, and The Temptations Papa Was A Rolling Stone. Plus what is probably regarded as The Commitments signature tune, Mustang Sally.

The vocal talents, dancing and harmonies of the women of the show stood out even amid what is a cast of actor-musicians without weakness. The ladies who became the backing and occasional front singers of the band, Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Natalie (Eve Kitchingman), and Sarah Gardiner (Bernie) almost stole the show by themselves, which is why I chose their image for this post. One Bromley Buzz tip – the show (on our night) ended at around 10.20pm. Whatever you do, don’t miss the encore. Bernie’s song in that finish, which we won’t name (spoiler!) was worth going to listen to by itself. But both the brothers and sisters of the stage, including those I’ve not named, all played their part on a fine night. My Bromley Buzz co-presenter Zeenat Noorani commented on the sheer dynamism of the show, and the energy and vibe of a cast who looked like they were loving their work. This is clearly a feelgood show for all concerned.  

If you walk to the car after a show discussing what is the best thing you’ve seen at a venue and listen to the songs the next morning on Spotify, you know you’ve had a particularly good time. We did. Why don’t you?

The show runs until Saturday 1st October, tickets here – https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-the-commitments-bromley-2020.

Darren Weale, 28th September 2022

Rev Richard Coles – stand out storyteller

Vicars. They’re dull, right? They dress in grey and often deliver sermons to match. So much for clichés (well-deserved or not). The Reverend Richard Coles is an utter exception. Sure enough, when we saw him on his ‘first night in Bromley’, he dressed in grey and had on his white clerical collar, but he proved that he can talk in technicolour!

That proof came when the Churchill Theatre in Bromley hosted ‘An Audience with the Rev Richard Coles’ on 24th August. He is pictured above (centre) near the stage door, flanked by Bromley Buzz podcast co-presenters Zeenat Noorani and Darren Weale. Our one regret on the night was that Richard has retired as a vicar, so there is no chance to attend a service he leads and to listen to one of his sermons.

You have to be living quite a life to hold an audience spellbound talking on stage by yourself with no more than a glass of water on a small table for company. The Reverend Richard Coles is living such a life. Coming from a family of shoe manufacturers, whose UK business faded alongside so many others decades ago, a choirboy, musician in The Communards when they hit the charts, broadcaster, University Chancellor, crime writer, Strictly Come Dancing contestant, and retired vicar, Richard has led and is leading a uniquely varied and full life.

Richard clearly could have talked for many hours, if not days, and drawn further on his past and present. Reading up on him now, there is so much more that he could have said. Yet from talking about Roland Rat to his initial disinclination to go anywhere near joining the priesthood, to belated romance and the madness of grief – a very personal story – and winning the ‘golden whisk’ in a Christmas MasterChef competition, he showed himself to be a captivating, charming and funny storyteller, and an artist of the spoken word.

A man with a rare ability to talk about so much without his story wandering into a lengthy discourse on faith, music or any other tempting topic, Richard was a delight. He was also a patient delight, still answering questions from the audience when one or two ignored his ‘last question’ request as he eyed his journey to home and the south coast.

We hope Richard enjoyed his first visit (!) to Bromley as much as we did. He will appear at the Rye Literary Festival on 22nd September – details here. If you’re going from Bromley, he is worth the journey.

Sara Barron at Three Hounds Beer, Beckenham

Sara Barron with Bromley Buzz co-hosts Zeenat Noorani and Darren Weale

Edinburgh and the USA came to The Three Hounds Beer Cafe & Bottle Shop in Beckenham on THAT very hot day, Tuesday 19th July during the Bromley Arts Festival, in the shape of comedian Sara Barron, an American now living in London, and on her way to Scotland soon for the Edinburgh Fringe. She came to the small, friendly Three Hounds Beer Cafe – where you can bring your own food – to run her act past an intimate audience in the 25-or so capacity basement venue. Sara had been there twice before, as she told us when we interviewed her briefly for the Bromley Buzz podcast, here.

It’s great that top entertainers come to smaller venues locally in Bromley – we’ll add the Bridge House Theatre in Penge and Bromley Little Theatre to that short local list – and Sara gave our podcast co-hosts Zeenat Noorani and Darren Weale a memorable evening.

The behaviour of Sara’s husband during child-making efforts (in these stories, a study in remote working…) was a theme, and a funny one. Biology and behaviour were frequent sources of humour and Sara sometimes stepped into dangerous comedic territory – miscarriage? – but comedy should be about the full human experience and she has an endearing way of checking back with the audience if she felt there was a risk of actual offence on those occasions when she engaged people directly.

Sara’s delivery was snappy, physical (she paced and gesticulated surprisingly successfully in the small space), and her Edinburgh warm-up warmed her up only too well in those sticky conditions. Not surprisingly, Sara reflected on contrasts between British and American customs and people, which put a new spin on our special relationship. It was a really punchy hour or so of comedy, the very best of it more in the first half, as it did feel that the story arc that ran across the later part of the set was rough around the edges. Hardly surprising when some of it had only been penned that morning. Lucky us for getting comedy literally hot off the press.

Sara will be different and her act better-honed (with Bromley’s help) for those upcoming Edinburgh audiences.

Watch out, Edinburgh, Sara Barron and her at times gynaecological humour are coming north. We would like to see her in Bromley again and we will be seeing more of the other excellent talents appearing regularly at the Three Hounds.

Breaking the Code – and other barriers

All of us involved in the Bromley Buzz podcast love the arts in one form or another, from The Jersey Boys (Sarah) to figure skating (Zeenat), to The Lament for Icarus by Draper (Darren), to Comicon (Tim). So much more that is uplifting and beautiful and that makes life worth living could be added.

Breaking the Code at Bromley Little Theatre, which runs until 9th July during the Bromley Arts Festival, is just as worthy of love, being a fine piece of theatre, but emotionally it is vexing as it reflects so painfully on the way some people were treated during a period of history that we have not moved fully away from. The theatre website describes it in these words, “Last performed at BLT in 1991, this compassionate play is the story of Alan Turing, mathematician and father of computer science. Turing ‘broke the code’ in two ways: he cracked the German Enigma code during World War II and also shattered the English code of sexual discretion with his homosexuality. A compelling piece of modern theatre that has certainly stood the test of time.”

Kerrin Roberts in the lead role brilliantly conveyed both Turing’s passion and the tunnel vision that changed history and made him sadly vulnerable to an establishment that used his vision, then condemned his lifestyle. Charlie D’Imperio as the slippery Ron Miller, one of Turing’s partners, the suitably soulless policeman Mick Ross (Giles Tebbitts) and Paul Ackroyd as Dillwyn Knox stood out in a strong cast that brought out the best of what is a remarkable story.

We could talk more about the simple set that was frequently re-shuffled to good effect, the wonderful opening to the second half, and the Desdemona-like conclusion for Turing, but we won’t. What we will talk about is respect. Respect for the play, for the performance, and for its importance. What happened to Turing was very recent in historical terms. The law has changed, but how far has society moved on? When it is a surprise and a celebration when an isolated famous LGBTQ+ person ‘comes out’ in sport, have we really moved on so much? Are the pressures that tortured Turing – who experienced chemical castration – so well resolved now? Perhaps doubt about the extent of that resolution reinforces why this play is one where anger might be for some the dominant emotion as the play concludes.

Yet that is part of the beauty of the arts. Their ability to evoke negative emotions which spark constructive thinking can often be an engine for positive change, a force for good, as this play can be viewed. This was a great choice of play to put on in the 50th year of Pride, a celebration Turing did not live to see, although he should have. Pride events continue across the UK and can be viewed here. Tickets to Breaking the Code are here.

You can listen to a full interview with the Bromley Little Theatre here and learn about LGBTQ+ services in Bromley here.

Darren Weale, 6th July 2022

Theatre 62: Memorable local theatre

Image: Freda Caplan (Mercedes Yearley) and Robert Caplan (Geoff Dillon)

On the eve of the July-long Bromley Arts Festival, Theatre 62 in West Wickham put on a highly polished performance of J.B. Priestley’s play ‘Dangerous Corner’, in their 60th anniversary year. It was a first visit to the theatre for myself and my Bromley Buzz podcast co-presenter Zeenat Noorani, and once the curtains parted to start the show it was quickly striking how small the gap can be between amateur and professional theatre.

The box office was dinky, the seats lightweight, the air conditioning absent, but there the differences with bigger theatres largely ended. The essence of live entertainment is what happens on stage, and this was a highly entertaining, slick and apparently well-rehearsed show.

The play, performed on a single, well-dressed 1930’s-style set occupied by even better-dressed actors, centres on a group of close friends and business associates. They come together for an evening which unravels from the moment that they can’t tune into dance music on a radiogram. Instead, they talk. Soon, they come to wish they hadn’t. The atmosphere becomes more and more tense as they tease truths, half-truths and revelations from each other.

The evening proceeds as half Spanish Inquisition, half game of truth and consequences, and one joy of the night is that each actor, even Betty Whitehouse (Christabel Wickert), who edges out with an incipient headache at one point, has their time in the spotlight of growing scandal. An exception is Miss Mockridge (Jane Sheraton), whose cameo appearances as a scandal-seeking Downton Abbey Dowager Duchess type figure are briefer, but still amusing. Much of the night concerns an absent friend, Martin, beautifully described as “as cruel as a cat”, and, absent or not, he still manages to drive the plot.

In what amounts to a detective-less investigation, Robert Caplan (Geoff Dillon), Freda Caplan (Mercedes Yeardley), Gordon Whitehouse (Stuart Scott), Betty Whitehouse (Christabel Wickert), Olwen Peel (Rebecca East), Charles Stanton (Andy Masters) pick and probe and poke at each other, gaining insights into hidden loves and motivations dark and light alike. What is revealed is a searching examination of what we are as human beings in our relations with those closest to us.

The quality of set, costume (especially Betty’s elegant dress), and atmosphere in this intimate theatre were excellent, and the acting was to match, with Charles perhaps having some of the very best lines, and his actor Andy Masters made the most of the opportunity to play what was something of a Jeckyll and Hyde character. Though he was not alone in this in a cast seemingly without weaknesses. The direction (by Patricia Melluish) kept the pace tight and, for that matter, the male characters as they wolfed down glass after glass of strong spirits appeared just as tight, developing a convincing ‘wobble’ in the second act, as Zeenat pointed out.

That was the only wobble on view on view in this night of proper entertainment.

Dangerous Corner runs until 2nd July, and is followed by God Of Carnage, 15th to 20th October.

Darren Weale, 30th June 2022